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Trump says FBI conducting search of Mar-a-Lago estate

FBI searching Trump estate

Former President Donald Trump said in a lengthy statement Monday that the FBI was conducting a search of his Mar-a-Lago estate and asserted that agents had broken open a safe. A person familiar with the matter said the action was related to a probe of whether Trump had taken classified records from his White House tenure to his Florida residence.

The action, which the FBI and Justice Department did not immediately confirm, marks a dramatic escalation in law enforcement scrutiny of Trump and comes as he has been laying the groundwork to make another bid for president. Though a search warrant does not suggest that criminal charges are near or even expected, federal officials looking to obtain one must demonstrate that they have probable cause that a crime occurred.

“After working and cooperating with the relevant Government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate,” Trump said in his statement.

He added: "These are dark times for our Nation, as my beautiful home, Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, is currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents. Nothing like this has ever happened to a President of the United States before.”

Justice Department spokesperson Dena Iverson declined to comment on the search, including about whether Attorney General Merrick Garland had personally authorized the search.

A person familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said the search happened earlier Monday and agents were also looking to see if Trump had additional presidential records or any classified documents at the estate.

The Justice Department has been investigating the presence of classified records inside 15 boxes that were retrieved from Mar-a-Lago by the National Archives and Records Administration earlier this year. The Archives then referred the matter to the Justice Department.

Federal law bars the removal of classified documents to unauthorized locations, though it is possible that Trump could try to argue that, as president, he was the ultimate declassification authority.

There are multiple statutes governing classified information, including a law punishable by up to five years in prison that makes it a crime to remove such records and retain them at an unauthorized location. Another statute makes it a crime to mishandle classified records either intentionally or in a grossly negligent manner.

The probe is hardly the only legal headache confronting Trump. A separate investigation related to efforts by Trump and his allies to undo the results of the 2020 presidential election and the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol has also been intensifying in Washington.

And a district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia is investigation whether Trump and his close associates sought to interfere in that state's election, which was won by Democrat Joe Biden.



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US pledges $1 billion more rockets, other arms for Ukraine

$1 billion more rockets

The Biden administration announced another $1 billion in new military aid for Ukraine on Monday, pledging what will be the biggest yet delivery of rockets, ammunition and other arms straight from Department of Defense stocks for Ukrainian forces.

The U.S. pledge of a massive new shipment of arms comes as analysts warned that Russia was moving troops and equipment in the direction of the southern port cities to stave off a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

The aid includes additional rockets for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, as well as thousands of artillery rounds, mortar systems, Javelins and other ammunition and equipment. Military commanders and other U.S. officials say the HIMARS and artillery systems have been crucial in Ukraine’s ongoing fight to try to prevent Russia from taking more ground.

The latest announcement brings the total U.S. security assistance committed to Ukraine by the Biden administration to roughly $9 billion since Russian troops invaded in late February.

“At every stage of this conflict, we have been focused on getting the Ukrainians what they need, depending on the evolving conditions on the battlefield,” Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, said in announcing the new weapons shipment.

Until now, the largest single security assistance package announcement was for $1 billion on June 15. But that aid included $350 million in presidential drawdown authority, and another $650 million under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

Monday's package allows the U.S. to deliver weapons systems and other equipment more quickly since it takes them off the Defense Department shelves.

For the last four months of the war, Russia has concentrated on capturing the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists have controlled some territory as self-proclaimed republics for eight years. Russian forces have made gradual headway in the region while launching missile and rocket attacks to curtail the movements of Ukrainian fighters elsewhere.



Man who shot Ahmaud Arbery gets life sentence for hate crime

Life sentence for hate crime

The white man who fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery after chasing the 25-year-old Black man in a Georgia neighbourhood was sentenced Monday to life in prison for committing a federal hate crime.

Travis McMichael was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood in the port city of Brunswick. His punishment is largely symbolic, as McMichael was sentenced earlier this year to life without parole in a Georgia state court for Arbery’s murder.

Wood said McMichael had received a “fair trial.”

“And it’s not lost on the court that it was the kind of trial that Ahmaud Arbery did not receive before he was shot and killed,” the judge said.

Before the sentencing, she heard from members of Arbery's family. His mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said she feels every shot that was fired at her son everyday.

“It’s so unfair, so unfair, so unfair that he was killed while he was not even committing a crime,” she said.

McMichael declined to address the court, but his attorney, Amy Copeland, said her client had no convictions before the charges for Arbery’s slaying and had served in the U.S. Coast Guard. She called for a more lenient sentence.

McMichael was one of three defendants convicted in February of federal hate crime charges. His father, Greg McMichael, and neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan had sentencing hearings scheduled later Monday.

The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and used a pickup truck to chase Arbery after he ran past their home on Feb. 23, 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck and recorded cellphone video of McMichael blasting Arbery with a shotgun as Arbery threw punches and grabbed at the weapon.

The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery was a burglar. Investigators determined he was unarmed and had committed no crimes.

Arbery's killing became part of a larger national reckoning over racial injustice and killings of unarmed Black people including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Those two cases also resulted in the Justice Department bringing federal charges.

Wood scheduled back-to-back hearings Monday to individually sentence each of the defendants, starting with Travis McMichael, who killed Arbery with a shotgun after the street chase initiated by his father and joined by a neighbor, who are also white.

Greg McMichael and Bryan also face possible life sentences after a jury convicted them in February of federal hate crimes, concluding that they violated Arbery's civil rights and targeted him because of his race. All three men were also found guilty of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels face additional penalties for using firearms to commit a violent crime.

A state Superior Court judge imposed life sentences for all three men in January for Arbery's murder, with both McMichaels denied any chance of parole.

All three defendants have remained jailed in coastal Glynn County, in the custody of U.S. marshals, while awaiting sentencing after their federal convictions in January.

Because they were first charged and convicted of murder in a state court, protocol would have them turned them over to the Georgia Department of Corrections to serve their life terms in a state prison.

In a court filings last week, both Travis and Greg McMichael asked the judge to instead divert them to a federal prison, saying they won’t be safe in a Georgia prison system that’s the subject of a U.S. Justice Department investigation focused on violence between inmates.

Copeland said during Monday's hearing for Travis McMichael that her client has received hundreds of threats that he will be killed as soon as he arrives at state prison and that his photo has been circulated there on illegal phones.

“I am concerned your honor that my client effectively faces a back door death penalty," she said, adding that “retribution and revenge” were not sentencing factors, even for a defendant who is “publicly reviled.”

Arbery’s family insisted that Travis McMichael serve his sentence in a state prison. His father, Marcus Arbery Sr., said Travis McMichael had shown his son no mercy and deserved to “rot in state prison.”

Wood said she didn't have the authority to order the state to relinquish custody of Travis McMichael to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, but also wasn't inclined to do so in his case.

During the February hate crimes trial, prosecutors fortified their case that Arbery's killing was motivated by racism by showing the jury roughly two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racist slurs and made disparaging comments about Black people.

Defense attorneys for the three men argued the McMichaels and Bryan didn’t pursue Arbery because of his race but acted on an earnest — though erroneous — suspicion that Arbery had committed crimes in their neighbourhood.



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Suspect in custody after fatal shooting in Snohomish

Arrest in deadly shooting

A suspect is in custody after a man was shot and killed at a home in Snohomish on Sunday morning, according to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

Just after 11:30 a.m., deputies responded to a reported domestic violence incident involving a firearm on 57th Avenue Southeast, KIRO-TV reported. When deputies arrived, they confirmed that a man in his late 50s had been shot.

The victim was taken to an area hospital, but he died from his injuries.

The 30-year-old suspect barricaded himself on the property, but he eventually surrendered to police and was taken into custody.

The suspect and victim knew each other and there are no outstanding suspects, according to the sheriff’s office. Major crimes detectives were called to the scene and will be investigating the shooting.



China extends threatening military exercises around Taiwan

China's sabre rattling

China said Monday it is extending threatening military exercises surrounding Taiwan that have disrupted shipping and air traffic and substantially raised concerns about the potential for conflict in a region crucial to global trade.

The announcement further increases uncertainty in the crisis that developed last week with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

The exercises will include anti-submarine drills, apparently targeting U.S. support for Taiwan in the event of a potential Chinese invasion, according to social media posts from the eastern leadership of China’s ruling Communist Party’s military arm, the People’s Liberation Army.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory and its leader, Xi Jinping, has focused on bringing the self-governing island democracy under the mainland's control, by force if necessary. The two sides split in 1949 after a civil war, but Beijing considers visits to Taiwan by foreign officials as recognizing its sovereignty.

Xi is seeking a third term as Communist Party leader later this year. His control over the armed forces and what he has defined as China's “core interests" — including Taiwan, territorial claims in the South China Sea and historic adversary Japan — are key to maintaining his nationalist credentials.

The military has said the exercises, involving missile strikes, warplanes and ship movements crossing the midline of the Taiwan Strait dividing the sides, are a response to Pelosi’s visit.

China has ignored calls to calm the tensions, and there was no immediate indication of when it would end what amounts to a blockade.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said China would “firmly safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, resolutely deter the U.S. from containing China with the Taiwan issue and resolutely shatter the Taiwan authorities’ illusion of “relying on the U.S. for independence.”

Asked in Dover, Delaware, on Monday about China’s response to Pelosi’s visit, U.S. President Joe Biden said: “I’m not worried, but I’m concerned they’re moving as much as they are. But I don’t think they’re going to do anything more than they are.”

China's slowing economic growth, which has reduced options among migrant workers as well as college graduates, has raised the specter of social unrest. The party has maintained its power through total control of the press and social media, along with suppression of political opponents, independent lawyers and activists working on issues from online free speech to LGBQT rights.

China doesn't allow public opinion polls, and popular opinion is hard to judge. However, it generally skews in favor of the government and its efforts to restore China's former dominant role in the region that puts it in conflict with the United States and its allies, including Japan and Australia.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said Sunday it detected a total of 66 aircraft and 14 warships conducting the naval and air exercises. The island has responded by putting its military on alert and deploying ships, planes and other assets to monitor Chinese aircraft, ships and drones that are “simulating attacks on the island of Taiwan and our ships at sea.”

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported that Taiwan’s army will conduct live-fire artillery drills in southern Pingtung county on Tuesday and Thursday, in response to the Chinese exercises.

The drills will include snipers, combat vehicles, armored vehicles as well as attack helicopters, said the report, which cited an anonymous source.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has called on the international community to “support democratic Taiwan” and “halt any escalation of the regional security situation.” The Group of Seven industrialized nations has also criticized China's actions, prompting Beijing to cancel a meeting between Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Japanese counterpart, Yoshimasa Hayashi.

China has cut off defense and climate talks with the U.S. and imposed sanctions on Pelosi in retaliation for her visit.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia over the weekend that Pelosi’s visit was peaceful and did not represent a change in American policy toward Taiwan. He accused China of using the trip as a “pretext to increase provocative military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait.”

The Biden administration and Pelosi say the U.S. remains committed to the “one-China” policy that extends formal diplomatic recognition to Beijing while allowing robust informal relations and defense ties with Taipei.

The U.S., however, criticized Beijing’s actions in the Taiwan Strait, with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre calling them “fundamentally irresponsible.”

“There’s no need and no reason for this escalation,” Jean-Pierre said.

In Washington, Taiwanese de facto ambassador Bi-khim Hsiao said China had no reason to “be so furious" over Pelosi's visit, which follows a long tradition of American lawmakers visiting Taiwan.

“Well, you know, we have been living under the threat from China for decades," Hsiao told CBS News on Sunday. “If you have a kid being bullied at school, you don’t say you don’t go to school. You try to find a way to deal with the bully.

“The risks are posed by Beijing," Hsiao said.

On a visit to Myanmar, whose Chinese-backed military government has been accused of murdering its opponents, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Washington was “taking the opportunity to build up its military deployment in the region, which deserves high vigilance and resolute boycott from all sides."

“China’s firm stance" is aimed at “earnestly safeguarding peace across the Taiwan Strait and regional stability," Wang was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.

Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong called for a cooling of tensions. “Australia continues to urge restraint, Australia continues to urge deescalation, and this is not something that solely Australia is calling for, and the whole region is concerned about the current situation, the whole region is calling for stability to be restored,” Wong told reporters in Canberra.



Efforts to feed Beluga whale in France's Seine fail so far

Whale strays into river lock

Efforts to feed a dangerously thin Beluga whale that has strayed into the Seine River in France have failed so far and experts are now trying to get the whale out of the river lock where it is stuck, environmentalists said Monday.

The marine conservation group Sea Shepherd France tweeted Monday that “feeding attempts are continuing in parallel to finding a solution to get it out of the lock in the best conditions.”

Experts at the site have warned that the beluga should not stay too long in the warm, stagnant water between lock gates.

“The beluga still doesn't eat but continues to show curiosity,” Sea Shepherd France tweeted. Overnight the whale “rubbed itself on the lock's wall and got rid of patches that had appeared on its back. Antibiotics may also have helped.”

The lost Beluga was first seen in France’s river, far from its Arctic habitat, last week. Drone footage shot by French fire services showed the whale gently meandering in a stretch of the river’s light green waters between Paris and the Normandy city of Rouen, many dozens of kilometres inland from the sea.

Experts since Friday have tried to feed the beluga with dead herrings and live trout, with no success. Sea Shepherd fears the whale could slowly starve in the waterway and die.

Local authorities said veterinarians have given the whale vitamins and products to stimulate its appetite, as well as some medical treatment.



Ex-Manchester United star Ryan Giggs set to go on trial

Ex-Man U star on trial

Former Manchester United star Ryan Giggs is set to go on trial today on charges of assault and use of coercive behaviour against a former girlfriend.

Giggs, 48, is accused of assaulting Kate Greville, 36, causing her actual bodily harm at his home in Worsley, greater Manchester on Nov. 1, 2020. He is also charged with common assault of her younger sister, Emma Greville, during the same incident.

Giggs is also charged with using controlling and coercive behavior against his former girlfriend between August 2017 and November 2020. His trial in Manchester is expected to last up to 10 days.

Giggs has denied all charges but stood down as the manager of the Wales national team, saying he didn’t want to jeopardize preparations ahead of the World Cup in Qatar later this year.

He was originally scheduled to face trial in January, but the case was delayed due to a court backlog made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.



Former Miss America Cara Mund plans to run for Congress

Miss America for Congress

Cara Mund, a former Miss America who gained attention by criticizing the organization near the end of her reign in 2018, plans to run for Congress in North Dakota as an independent.

Mund announced her candidacy Saturday and said she would start gathering the 1,000 signatures she needs to get on the ballot, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

If Mund gathers enough signatures, in November she will face Republican U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong, who is seeking a second term, and Democrat Mark Haugen of Bismarck, a University of Mary graduate adviser who has long worked as a paramedic.

“I am so proud to be a North Dakotan,” Mund said in a statement. “It would be an honor and a privilege to represent the people of our state in Congress. I am ready to get to work and look forward to putting North Dakotans first.”

Mund said in 2018 that she had been bullied and silenced by leaders within the Miss America organization. The head of the organization's board later resigned.

Mund has said that her time as Miss America inspired her to be involved in public service. She graduated from Harvard Law School earlier this year.



Israel, Palestinians appear headed for cease-fire in Gaza

Cease-fire talks in Gaza

Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip appeared headed toward a cease-fire Sunday night after Egyptian officials said both sides agreed to a truce to end a three-day flare-up of violence that has killed dozens of Palestinians.

The cease-fire would end the worst fighting in Gaza since an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas last year. Since Friday night, the violence has killed 43 Palestinians, including 15 children and four women.

Egyptian officials said the truce was set to begin at 11:30 p.m. local time. An Egyptian intelligence official said both sides had agreed to the truce. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the cease-fire talks.

Since Friday, Israeli aircraft have pummelled targets in Gaza, while the Iran-backed Palestinian Jihad militant group has fired hundreds of rockets at Israel in response. The risk of the cross-border fighting turning into a full-fledged war remained as long as no truce was reached. Israel says some of the dead were killed by misfired rockets.

Gaza’s ruling Hamas group remained on the sidelines, possibly because it fears Israeli reprisals and undoing economic understandings with Israel, including Israeli work permits for thousands of Gaza residents, that bolster its control.

Israel launched its operation with a strike Friday on a leader of the Islamic Jihad, and followed up on Saturday with another targeted strike on a second prominent leader.

The second Islamic Jihad commander, Khaled Mansour, was killed in an airstrike on an apartment building in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza late Saturday, which also killed two other militants and five civilians.

Mansour, the Islamic Jihad commander for southern Gaza, was in the apartment of a member of the group when the missile struck, flattening the three-story building and badly damaging nearby houses.

“Suddenly, without warning, the house next to us was bombed and everything became black and dusty with smoke in the blink of an eye,” said Wissam Jouda, who lives next to the targeted building.

Ahmed al-Qaissi, another neighbour, said his wife and son were among the wounded, suffering shrapnel injuries. To make way for rescue workers, al-Qaissi agreed to have part of his house demolished.

As a funeral for Mansour began in the Gaza Strip on Sunday afternoon, the Israeli military said it was striking suspected “Islamic Jihad rocket launch posts.” Smoke could be seen from the strikes as thumps from their explosions rattled Gaza. Israeli airstrikes and rocket fire followed for hours as sirens wailed in central Israel. As the sunset call to prayer sounded Sunday night in Gaza, sirens wailed as far north as Tel Aviv.

Israel says some of the deaths during this round were caused by errant rocket fire, including one incident in the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza in which six Palestinians were killed Saturday. On Sunday, a projectile hit a home in the same area of Jebaliya, killing two men. Palestinians held Israel responsible, while Israel said it was investigating whether the area was hit by an errant rocket.

Israel's Defence Ministry said mortars fired from Gaza struck the Erez border crossing into Israel, used by thousands of Gazans a day. The mortars damaged the roof and shrapnel hit the hall's entrance, the ministry said. The crossing has been closed amid the fighting.

The Rafah strike was the deadliest so far in the current round of fighting, which was initiated by Israel on Friday with the targeted killing of Islamic Jihad's commander for northern Gaza.

Israel has said it took action against the militant group because of concrete threats of an imminent attack, but has not provided details. Caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who is an experienced diplomat but untested in overseeing a war, unleashed the offensive less than three months before a general election in which he is campaigning to keep the job.

In a statement Sunday, Lapid said the military would continue to strike targets in Gaza “in a pinpoint and responsible way in order to reduce to a minimum the harm to noncombatants.” Lapid said the strike that killed Mansour was “an extraordinary achievement.”

“The operation will continue as long as necessary,” Lapid said.

Israel estimates its airstrikes have killed about 15 militants.

Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and supporters than Hamas, and little is known about its weapons arsenal. Both groups call for Israel's destruction, but have different priorities, with Hamas constrained by the demands of governing.

The Israeli army said militants in Gaza fired about 580 rockets toward Israel. The army said its air defences had intercepted many of them, with two of those shot down being fired toward Jerusalem. Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and supporters than Hamas.

Air raid sirens sounded in the Jerusalem area for the first time Sunday since last year’s Israel-Hamas war.

Jerusalem is typically a flashpoint during periods of cross-border fighting between Israel and Gaza. On Sunday, hundreds of Jews, including firebrand ultra-nationalist lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, visited a sensitive holy site in Jerusalem, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The visit, under heavy police protection, ended without incident, police said.

Such demonstrative visits by Israeli hard-liners seeking to underscore Israeli claims of sovereignty over contested Jerusalem have sparked violence in the past. The holy site sits on the fault line of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is central to rival narratives of Palestinians and Israeli Jews.

In Palestinian cities and towns in the West Bank, Israeli security forces said they detained 19 people on suspicion of belonging to the Islamic Jihad during overnight raids.

By Sunday, Hamas still appeared to stay out of the battle. The group has a strong incentive to avoid another war. Last year's Israel-Hamas war, one of four major conflicts and several smaller battles over the last 15 years, exacted a staggering toll on the impoverished territory’s 2.3 million Palestinian residents.

Since the last war, Israel and Hamas have reached tacit understandings based on trading calm for work permits and a slight easing of the border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas overran the territory 15 years ago. Israel has issued 12,000 work permits to Gaza labourers, and has held out the prospect of granting another 2,000 permits.

The lone power plant in Gaza ground to a halt at noon Saturday due to lack of fuel. Israel has kept its crossing points into Gaza closed since Tuesday. With the new disruption, Gazans can use only four hours of electricity a day, increasing their reliance on private generators and deepening the territory’s chronic power crisis amid peak summer heat.



Israel, militants trade fire as Gaza death toll climbs to 24

Gaza death toll climbs to 24

Israeli airstrikes flattened homes in Gaza on Saturday and Palestinian rocket barrages into southern Israel persisted for a second day, raising fears of another major escalation in the Mideast conflict. Gaza’s health ministry said 24 people had been killed so far in the coastal strip, including six children.

The fighting began with Israel’s killing of a senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group in a wave of strikes Friday that Israel said were meant to prevent an imminent attack.

So far, Hamas, the larger militant group that rules Gaza, appeared to stay on the sidelines of the conflict, keeping its intensity somewhat contained. Israel and Hamas fought a war barely a year ago, one of four major conflicts and several smaller battles over the last 15 years that exacted a staggering toll on the impoverished territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.

Whether Hamas continues to stay out of the fight likely depends in part on how much punishment Israel inflicts in Gaza as rocket fire steadily continues.

The Israeli military said an errant rocket fired by Palestinian militants killed civilians late Saturday, including children, in the town of Jabaliya, in northern Gaza. The military said it investigated the incident and concluded “without a doubt” that it was caused by a misfire on the part of Islamic Jihad. There was no official Palestinian comment on the incident.

A Palestinian medical worker, who was not authorized to brief media and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the blast killed at least six people, including three children.

An airstrike in the southern city of Rafah destroyed a home and heavily damaged surrounding buildings. The Health Ministry said at least two people were killed and 32 wounded, including children. A teenage boy was recovered from the rubble, and the other slain individual was identified by his family as Ziad al-Mudalal, the son of an Islamic Jihad official.

The military said it targeted Khaled Mansour, Islamic Jihad's commander for southern Gaza. Neither Israel nor the militant group said whether he was hit. The Civil Defense said responders were still sifting through the rubble and that a digger was being sent from Gaza City.

Another strike Saturday hit a car, killing a 75-year-old woman and wounding six other people.

In one of the strikes, fighter jets dropped two bombs on the house of an Islamic Jihad member after Israel warned people to evacuate the area. The blast flattened the two-story structure, leaving a large rubble-filled crater, and badly damaged surrounding homes.

Women and children rushed out of the area.

“Warned us? They warned us with rockets and we fled without taking anything,” said Huda Shamalakh, who lived next door. She said 15 people lived in the targeted home.

Among the 24 Palestinians killed were six children and two women, as well as the senior Islamic Jihad commander. The Gaza Health Ministry said more than 200 people have been wounded. It does not differentiate between civilians and fighters. The Israeli military said Friday that early estimates were that around 15 fighters were killed.

The lone power plant in Gaza ground to a halt at noon Saturday for lack of fuel as Israel has kept its crossing points into Gaza closed since Tuesday. With the new disruption, Gazans can get only 4 hours of electricity a day, increasing their reliance on private generators and deepening the territory’s chronic power crisis amid peak summer heat.

Throughout the day, Gaza militants regularly launched rounds of rockets into Israel. The Israeli military said Saturday evening that nearly 450 rockets had been fired, 350 of which made it into Israel, but almost all were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. Two people suffered minor shrapnel wounds.

One rocket barrage was fired toward Tel Aviv, setting off sirens that sent residents to shelters, but the rockets were either intercepted or fell into the sea, the military said.

Sunday could be a critical day in the flare-up, as Jews mark Tisha B’av, a somber day of fasting that commemorates the destruction of the biblical temples. Thousands are expected at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, and Israeli media reported that the Israeli leadership was expected to allow lawmakers to visit a key hilltop holy site in the city that is a flashpoint for violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

The violence poses an early test for Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who assumed the role of caretaker prime minister ahead of elections in November, when he hopes to keep the position.

Lapid, a centrist former TV host and author, has experience in diplomacy having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but has thin security credentials. A conflict with Gaza could burnish his standing and give him a boost as he faces off against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk who led the country during three of its four wars with Hamas.

Hamas also faces a dilemma in deciding whether to join a new battle barely a year after the last war caused widespread devastation. There has been almost no reconstruction since then, and the isolated coastal territory is mired in poverty, with unemployment hovering around 50%. Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade over the territory since the Hamas takeover in 2007.

Egypt on Saturday intensified efforts to prevent escalation, communicating with Israel, the Palestinians and the United States to keep Hamas from joining the fighting, an Egyptian intelligence official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The latest round of Israel-Gaza violence was rooted in the arrest earlier this week of a senior Islamic Jihad leader in the occupied West Bank, part of a monthslong Israeli military operation.

Israel then closed roads around Gaza and sent reinforcements to the border, bracing for retaliation. On Friday, it killed Islamic Jihad’s commander for northern Gaza, Taiseer al-Jabari, in a strike on a Gaza City apartment building.

An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes were in response to an “imminent threat” from two militant squads armed with anti-tank missiles.

Hamas seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew from the coastal strip. Its most recent war with Israel was in May 2021. Tensions soared again earlier this year following a wave of attacks inside Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions at a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site.

Iran-backed Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but largely shares its ideology. Both groups oppose Israel’s existence and have carried out scores of deadly attacks over the years.



Alex Jones ordered to pay $49.3M total over Sandy Hook lies

Jones ordered to pay $49M

A Texas jury on Friday ordered Infowars’ Alex Jones to pay $49.3 million in total damages to the parents of a first-grader killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, which the conspiracy theorist falsely called a hoax orchestrated by the government in order to tighten U.S. gun laws.

The amount is less than the $150 million sought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was among 19 children and six educators killed in the deadliest classroom shooting in U.S. history.

The trial is the first time Jones has been held financially liable for peddling lies about the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut.

Jurors at first awarded Heslin and Lewis $4.1 million in compensatory damages, which Jones called a major victory. But in the final phase of the two-week trial, the same Austin jury came back and tacked on an additional $45.2 million in punitive damages.

Punitive damages are meant to punish defendants for particularly egregious conduct, beyond monetary compensation awarded to the individuals they hurt. A high punitive award is also seen as a chance for jurors to send a wider societal message and a way to deter others from the same abhorrent conduct in the future.

Attorneys for the family had urged jurors to hand down a financial punishment that would put Infowars out of business.

“You have the ability to stop this man from ever doing it again,” Wesley Ball, an attorney for the parents, told the jury.

It’s unclear how much money Jones and Infowars’ parent company, Free Speech Systems, have.

An economist hired by the plaintiffs testified that Jones and the company are worth up to $270 million, suggesting that Jones was still making money.

But Jones testified that any award over $2 million would “sink us.” And Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy protection during the trial’s first week.

Jones still faces two other defamation lawsuits from Sandy Hook families in Texas and Connecticut.



7 adults, 3 kids dead in house fire; criminal probe underway

10 dead in house fire

Fire tore quickly through a house in the wee hours of Friday, killing seven adults and three children and horrifying a volunteer firefighter who arrived to battle the blaze only to discover that the victims were his family, authorities said.

A criminal investigation into the fire is underway, authorities said. The children who died in the fire were ages 5, 6 and 7, Pennsylvania State Police said in a news release.

Nescopeck Volunteer Fire Co. firefighter Harold Baker told the Citizens' Voice newspaper of Wilkes-Barre that the 10 victims included his son, daughter, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, three grandchildren and two other relatives.

The fire in Nescopeck was reported around 2:30 a.m. One person was found dead inside the single-family home shortly after emergency responders arrived, while two other victims were found later in the morning.

Some people were able to safely flee the burning home, authorities said.

Baker said that the address initially given for the call was a neighboring home, but that he realized it was his family’s residence as the fire truck approached.

“When we turned the corner up here on Dewey (Street) I knew right away what house it was just by looking down the street,” Baker told the Citizens' Voice. “I was on the first engine, and when we pulled up, the whole place was fully involved. We tried to get in to them."

Neighbors reported hearing a loud popping sound or explosion before seeing the front porch of the home rapidly consumed by flames. Some also reported hearing a young man screaming in front of the home, “They’re all dead."

Baker, who was relieved of his firefighting duties because of his relationship to the victims, said 14 people were living in the home. One of them was out delivering newspapers, and three others escaped, he said.

“It’s a complex criminal investigation with multiple fatalities," Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Derek Felsman said. Troopers were interviewing survivors, he said.



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